Lately I've engaged in a whole slew of conversations with women I love. These conversations have circled back to a concept I've been tossing around for a bit here: this idea of reconfiguring, re-evaluating where we are and where we want to head. The patterns that emerged in all of our thinking have been truly striking. I think we all do this (re-evaluate) all of the time, in big and small ways. We formatively assess, we monitor and adjust, and repeat. However, there also seems to be a time in life when this becomes a more and more "monumental" or "momentous" exercise. Maybe, just maybe, as we grow older, we are more and more intentional about this practice; age incites a desire and a capability to move closer and closer to living as we truly want to be living--there's less time to continue to "make do." And we cull and shed as necessary.
And I started thinking about what we embrace and what we fear at different points of our lives, and this quote from a book I finished on the plane a couple of weeks ago struck me:
"I used to believe everything my brother told me, because he was older and I figured he knew more about the world. But, as it turns out, being a grown-up doesn't mean you're fearless. It just means you fear different things." --Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf (and, no, I'm not recommending the book; it was a fun airplane read, though.)
Fear has interesting adaptations as we age. It seems to manifest as anxiety more than fear of any concrete "thing" any more. A friend of mine and I used to joke about "general malaise"--an unidentifiable illness, but a clear sense that we weren't "well." We used to ask each other, "Is it a general or specific malaise?" The general malaise was always the more disconcerting, frankly, because we couldn't just "treat" it or find a solution. And I think this is what makes adult fear such a strange beast to conquer. We can't identify one thing or event that is causing pain or discomfort, but there is a compendium of symptoms that collide and become anxiety-inducing. I came down with a cold this weekend, and it was so refreshing to simply say, "yes, indeed, these are the symptoms of a cold, and they will pass in a couple of days, in a predictable manner." I could acknowledge, control, and ride through this. Easy-peasy.
And so it goes. I like my list of things I no longer fear at this age I am, and I'm starting to actually embrace the things I do fear (because there isn't really a choice here). I do have some fear of life being an endless series of events that lack "woohoo!" But I also acknowledge that I'm in charge of my own well-being. I sometimes worry that I'm making choices that move me further and further from what I really want. But I no longer fear that every decision I make is somehow singular and loaded with great import; I am grateful to realize that not everything happens "for a reason" in life (though, there are times, of course, when this salve would have made certain life events more palatable). As I write this, I'm becoming aware of the fact that "fear" is not a word I enjoy using. And a lot of this is because the things I fear most have happened in the past. I'm not very afraid of my future; I'm more afraid that decisions I've made in my past have led me to a future that isn't what it could have been. How much of a cliche is that?
There are certain decisions that affect things permanently. And those? Those you deal with. And? If I'm Pollyanna, I realize that those decisions have allowed other things to happen. No matter who I am? I realize that those decisions have been made. And that now is now. And fear? Fear is mostly a waste of time (unless you're in a life-threatening situation--then, only then, will it come in handy). Fear will remind you whether you are to climb a tree or curl into a fetal position if you see a black bear. It will create the impetus to cut loose people whose insecurities will eat you alive, and to look both ways before you cross the street. Trust you.